Chicago to Close 54 Schools
School is almost out for summer, but over 50 Chicago public schools are out forever.
Before the beginning of fall classes next year, Chicago will close 54 public schools. Mayor Rahm Emanuel made this decision because of a huge city deficit. Critics have responded with protest.
Here is a video of the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, Karen Lewis, responding to Emanuel’s decision to close these schools.
According to Prof. Twyla Blackmond-Larnell, a political science scholar at Loyola University of Chicago, “(the issue of school closings) is a complication of a lot of things: social, economic and political factors.”
This article will break down these factors in order to explain the issues tied to the school closings.
The Chicago school district is nursing a $1 billion deficit. The Chicago public school system estimates that closing these 54 public schools will save $560 million over the next 10 years.
Also, Chicago public school teachers went on strike at the beginning for increased wages. After postponing school for eight days, the Chicago teacher’s union won higher salaries for teachers. Over the next four years, CPS teachers will receive a 17.6 percent raise in pay.
The city needed to cut costs somewhere. Unfortunately, those budget cuts meant closing school after school.
Blackmond-Larnell suggested that higher wages for teachers contributed to the school closings.
“If teachers are arguing for more money…then they have to know that that directly conflicts with education reform,” she said.
Chicago public schools are able to hold 511,000 students, but only 403,000 students are enrolled. This under-enrollment is mainly the result of residents, especially minorities, leaving the city.
Blackmond-Larnell said that the Chicago Housing Authority’s Section 8 housing voucher program contributed to African Americans leaving the city. This program provides low-income families with government funds in order that they rent housing in suburban neighborhoods or private markets.
Considering that a majority of the closing schools are in black neighborhoods, this decrease in the black population contributed to a significant lack of enrollment in the Chicago school district. Without enough students, schools were not operating efficiently. Some schools could only fill classrooms to half-capacity.
When reached for comment on the current state of the soon-to-be-closed schools, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said, “The status quo is failing way too many kids. It can’t be met with silence. It has to be met with action.”
The emptying of neighborhoods also led to a lack of funds for the public schools. The shrinking number of residents in these school neighborhoods meant less revenue from property taxes and therefore less money for CPS.
Parents and critics of the school closings worry that closing schools will expose students to dangerous neighborhoods. Students who normally walked to their neighborhood school will likely have to cross through crime-infested neighborhoods in order to reach their new school. Some children, such as those who attended Jean D. Lafayette Elementary School, will have to walk up to 10 blocks to get to the school that they have been transferred to.
Though this is a legitimate concern, Blackmond-Larnell said that this issue is more the responsibility of communities than the city.
“Communities need to take their community back,” Blackmond-Larnell said.
Blackmond-Larnell stressed that residents report criminal behavior to the police. If the city can enforce the law and root out crime, these neighborhoods will likely improve. However, the residents need to help law enforcement by providing information when possible.
Nevertheless, the city can still take steps to make these neighborhoods safer. Blackmond-Larnell said that Chicago needs to use its police force and push legislation to take weapons out of criminals’ hands.
“Chicago needs gun reform laws, police to step up, and people to step up”
Until then, however, children may have to travel through risky neighborhoods for the sake of going to school.
Pat Camden, speaking on behalf of the Fraternal Order of Police, said, “our resources are already stretched and we don’t know how we’re going to go to the next step.”
With the closing of 54 public schools, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his administration will have over 60 empty buildings to deal with. These buildings are an eyesore, but they also present the risk of becoming centers for crime and other undesirable behaviors.
CBS Chicago called abandoned buildings “havens for drug and gang activity.”
Blackmond-Larnell confirmed this observation, saying that these empty school buildings could become homes for prostitutes, drug dealers and the homeless. Such groups could negatively affect these neighborhoods.
It’s unclear whether Emanuel will demolish the vacant buildings or let them stand; he hasn’t commented on this issue. It would likely cost significant money and labor to take these buildings down, but leaving them to stand could contribute to a negative, risky culture in the neighborhoods around these closed schools.
Here is a link to a poll about Emanuel’s decision to close schools. Share your opinion!